Brazil Travel Guide

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Visiting Brazil

Brazil is the largest country in South America and the fifth largest in the world. With an area of eight and a half million square kilometers it is equal in size to the entire continent of Europe.

Brazil was discovered by the Portuguese explorer Pedro Alvares Cabral in 1500. Prior to this, the area was inhabited solely by native Indians. When the new settlers arrived they discovered that the land was ideal for growing sugar cane and this rapidly became the basis of the country’s economic growth. When the industry took off, help was needed to carry out the work and the first Africans made their way into the country to work as slaves in the plantations.

The discovery of gold in the late seventeenth century was to replace sugar as Brazil’s main export and in the nineteenth century this was again replaced by coffee. The end of this century also saw the abolition of slavery in the country. As a direct result, European immigrants came in their droves to work in the coffee-estates which were now widespread throughout Brazil.

The mass immigration into Brazil during this time was to have a lasting effect on the population of the country and this is still apparent today with the multitude of ethnic communities and regions throughout the country. There are people from all over the world living in Brazil and while the original settlers can be credited with the language and religion, all these other nationalities have also had their own influence on the country’s development. Along with the Portuguese, you will find over two hundred Indian communities, a rich African population which has descended directly from the original immigrants as well as Italian, French, German, Japanese and many other nationalities.

And, as well as the diversity which the inhabitants have created, the country itself is also one of stark contrasts. For many visitors it is the Amazon basin which has the most appeal. With over one tenth of the world’s living things residing here you can understand why. But, the country has a great deal more to offer. From the swamp lands of the Pantanal to the beaches in Rio, Brazil is as interesting as they get and a destination which truly does have something to offer each individual who visits.

Brazil has become home to settlers from all over the world since the first group arrived from Africa in 1538. As a result it has a unique and diverse cuisine which is impossible to define in detail. But, it is possible to divide the different regions by the type of food which is most commonly consumed there so this should offer you a quick insight into some of the native specialties.

In the north or the region known as Amazonia, the principal groups who settled were the native Indians or a group of people of mixed Indian and Portuguese origins. Traditionally they survive on a diet of fish, root vegetables, yams and tropical fruits. One popular dish which you will find in the north is Caruru do Para which consists of shrimp, onion, tomato, okra, cilantro and dende oil all cooked together in one pot.

The north-east, which includes the State of Bahia, is a predominantly African region and the cuisine here is Afro-Bahian. This is an unusual combination which includes traditional African, Indian and Portuguese dishes which use ingredients which are available locally. So, in the coastal areas of this region seafood and shellfish are most popular and are generally of extremely high quality.

In the central west the most common ingredients used are fish from the rivers as well as beef and pork from the huge ranches which dominate the region. Again the emphasis is on produce which is readily available in the area so the crops of soybean, rice and corn are also a very important part of the daily diet.

In the southeast, which includes Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, several distinctive styles of cooking can be sampled. One of the most popular dishes in both cities is a bean and meat concoction of Bahian origin – feijoada completa. Another favourite is arroz-feijao which is made using rice and beans. In Sao Paulo you will also notice the influence that the European and North African immigrants have had on the cuisine – don’t worry it’s a good one, the food in the city is excellent.

Finally, in the south of the country you will find the national cuisine of the gaucho or cowboy as well as dishes influenced by the German settlers who arrived in the region some centuries ago. Understandably, meat is high on the list of priority ingredients here but if you’re not a fan potatoes and the native manioc are also extremely popular.

Getting There
As well as the national airlines mentioned in the next section the other major airlines serving Brazil include: Aerolineas Argentinas, Air France, Alitalia, American Airlines, AeroPeru, British Airways, Continental Airlines, KLM, LAN-Chile, Lufthansa, South African Airlines, Swissair, TAP Air Portugal, Iberia, Japan Airlines, Korean Airlines, Pluna and United Airlines.

Your arrival in the country will probably be into either Aeroporto Galeao in Rio de Janeiro and Aeroporto Sao Paulo-Guarulhos. These are the country’s main international airports and both have regular connections with all the other airports in the country. If you fly into Rio, the airport is 21km north of the city centre but airport buses operate to the city between 5.30am and 11.00pm and the journey will take you between thirty and forty minutes. Sao Paulo airport is 25km north of the city and buses operate every half hour during the day and every hour in the evening taking between thirty and fifty minutes to get to the city centre. Taxis are also easy to find at both airports.

Brazil also has numerous land border crossings with Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, French Guiana, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela. Finally, if you’re looking for a true adventure why not enter the country by river on the Amazon route between Islandia in Peru and Iquitos in Brazil.

Getting Around
The favoured option for travel within the country is by air and compliments of a recent deregulation, the good news is that air travel in Brazil is getting cheaper. The four main national carriers are VASP, Varig, TAM and Transbrasil and all the major cities are served by at least one of these particular airlines. If you do avail of this form of transport you should shop around for promotions as you can get some really good offers. There is also a Brazil Airpass which provides air travel for five flights to anywhere in the country. This will cost you just over US$540 and must be used within twenty-one days.

The more common option for budget travellers, however, is the country’s bus service which, with the exception of the Amazon Basin, is generally excellent. Buses are punctual, clean and comfortable and this form of travel is very cheap. All the major towns and cities are served by frequent services and it is unusual to have to change buses when traveling between destinations which is always a good thing when you are in a foreign country where you probably don’t even speak the language. There are two types of long distance bus – the comum and the leito. The former is the economy service and is cheap and comfortable and is usually air-conditioned. The leito is the sleeper train and while it is a great deal more impressive, it is also much more expensive and usually takes just as long to reach its destination as the comum. If you do intend to travel by bus you should buy your ticket a day in advance particularly at weekends or festival times.

There is also a train service in Brazil but it is extremely limited and is becoming more so all the time. The one thing that attracts tourists to travelling by train in the country, however, are the fascinating views and journeys which they offer. Other than this, it is makes much more sense to avail of either air travel or the bus system in the country.

Christ the Redeemer & Corcovado Hill, Rio de Janeiro
If you make it to Rio de Janeiro during your trip to Brazil it is impossible to avoid Corcovado Hill and the world famous statue of Christ the Redeemer. Standing at one hundred and twenty five feet, it is Brazil’s most prominent landmark. Once you mount the hill to get to the statue you will also receive spectacular views out over the entire city. The idea for the statue came about in 1921 but the actual designing and building didn’t start until a decade later. The statue which the designers eventually came up with and the one that looks over Rio today symbolizes Christ with his arms open embracing all the people.

Amazon Rain Forest, Manaus
Tragic is the only word to describe a visit to Brazil without a trip to the Amazon rainforest. Home to thousands of the rarest species of flora and fauna in the world as well as numerous indigenous tribes, entering this wilderness is like nothing you are ever likely to experience again. Manaus, the capital city of the Brazilian state of Amazonas, is the gateway for all visitors to the depths of the rainforest and there are numerous tour operators who provide excellent packages which cater for everyone’s needs. Do shop around for the best value and try to avail of a tour which will provide anything you might need during your trip. Remember, you are heading into the wild so if you forget anything, there is no going back. Main activities, sports etc.

Iguaza Falls
While only a quarter of the falls are actually in Brazil, the remainder are in Argentina and Uruguay, they are still an attraction very much worth your while checking out. It is recommended that you see them from both sides of the various borders but you will need a visa to travel to the other countries. If you can at all, you should obtain do so and allow at least two days for your trip. If not, you will still see plenty to fascinate you. They are located in the northwest of the Missiones and consist of 275 falls, some reaching as high as seventy metres. Added to this is the fact that they are surrounded by the National Park, a virgin jungle protecting over four hundred species of wildlife and over two thousand flora species. It is a remarkable trip offering some of the most memorable views you are ever likely to see.

The Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro
Thanks to the efforts of American crooner, Barry Manilow, the Copacabana is something most people have heard mentioned from time to time. What they might not know is that it is one of the most famous of all the beaches in the world. Running for three miles in front of the densely populated Rio de Janeiro, the Copacabana means very different things for different people. For some it is a commercial, ultra tacky destination where they would never dream of going. For others it is the sheer craziness of the place and the people that add to its appeal. But, for whatever reason, it attracts hundreds of thousands of people every year and the one thing that they all agree on is that they have a good time while they are there.

The Pantanal
The Pantanal translates as ‘large swamp’ and lies in the mid–west of the country. While everyone has heard of the Amazon Basin, this area actually surpasses it when it comes to wildlife viewing. Home to over six hundred and fifty species of bird as well as alligators, deer, otters, emus, boa constrictors and monkeys, it is a fascinating attraction for the nature lovers among you. If you’re not partial to all things wild and wonderful, however, you might be better off heading to the beach because they simply cannot be avoided in this unique wilderness.

Carnival, Rio de Janeiro
On a par with Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Carnival in Rio is now one of the biggest celebrations in the world. It also takes place at the same time of year beginning on the Saturday before Shrove Tuesday. The festival itself is so crazy and full of so many things to do and see you are quite likely to feel slightly overwhelmed, and there is no better feeling. The highlight of Carnival is the traditional Brazilian dance, the samba and the parades of dancers are full of more colour and rhythm than you can possibly imagine. If you are planning a trip to Brazil, this is probably one of the best and worst times you could possibly travel. The best for sheer enjoyment, the worst for travel and accommodation so book early and enjoy.

Parintins Folk Festival
Taking place on June 28th, 29th and 30th every year and attracting over forty thousand people from all over the world, this is a unique festival taking place on the banks of the Amazon. Comprising traditional music, dance and folklore, the main theme of the festival is the mystical ‘Boi Bumba’, a battle between two groups representing the legendary bulls, Caprichoso and Garantido. While the costumes and floats are not unlike those seen in Rio’s Carnival, the atmosphere and the festivities are much milder. Beginning at the harbour, three and a half thousand boats bring tourists from the rest of the country to take place in one of Brazil’s greatest folk festivals. If you are in Brazil around this time, it is certainly well worth making the trip to Parintins to take place in this fascinating event.

Bahia Carnival, Salvador
This one takes place between the 23rd and the 28th of February and is probably the second largest of Brazil’s festivals. Bahia or Salvador (the city goes by both names) is the African centre of South America and the carnival celebrates all things African in the region. The festival is a flurry of sights and sounds where you will hear the best Afro-Brazilian music the country has to offer as well as getting to see every traditional form of dance ever created. There are also numerous parades unlike anything you’ve ever seen. It is an unusual five days but one you are guaranteed to enjoy thoroughly once you are there.

Brazilian Grand Prix, Sao Paulo
Motor racing in a Brazil has a long history with the first race taking place back in 1908 built in Sao Paulo. So, to catch a Grand Prix during your stay in the country should certainly be regarded as an added bonus. While the drivers themselves might not appreciate the Sao Paulo, the spectators love it. The whole region becomes caught up in the hype that the race brings with it making the city a really exciting place to stay on a Formula 1 Grand Prix weekend. The track itself is only about ten miles outside the city centre too so making your way there shouldn’t pose any major problems.

Football
While motor racing may prove popular in Brazil there really is no other form of entertainment which can compare to the first love of all natives – futebol. This passion can be seen all over the country in the number of football stadiums which are scattered throughout, even in the smallest towns the grounds are huge. In fact the Marcana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro is the largest in the world with a capacity of two hundred thousand. Winners of the World Cup in 1958, 1962, 1970 and in 1994, and home to the greatest player of all time, Pele, football in Brazil is the game at its most powerful so make sure you catch at least one game while you are there.

Currency
The currency used in Brazil is the real and it is made up of one hundred centavos. Notes come in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 50 and 100real and the coins in use are 1, 5, 10, 25, and 50 centavos and 1real.

Language
The official language is Portuguese but in most of the tourist areas you will find somebody who speaks English. If you are in the more remote areas, however, it is difficult to find people who speak anything other than Portuguese so it is handy to learn a few words and phrases to help you get by.

Climate
Winter in Brazil is between June and August with temperatures reaching lows of between 13 and 18 degrees. It only gets really cold when you travel south of Rio. Summer lasts from December to February and again the extremes are only to be found in the south when the humidity can become difficult to handle if you are not used to it. Brief rain showers are common compliments of the country’s tropical climate but the interior of Brazil has only a few months of heavy rainfall. The Amazon Basin is the wettest area with almost constant damp moist temperatures which average about 27 degrees.

Time Zone
Three principal time zones are observed in Brazil. The east, northeast, south and southeast are three hours behind Greenwich Mean Time, the west is four hours behind and the far west is five hours behind GMT.

Opening Hours
Most shops are open between 9.00am and 6.00pm from Monday to Friday and from 9.00 until 1.00pm on Saturday. Some of the bigger shopping centres and shops in the bigger towns and cities open later, many until 10.00pm and they also open on Sunday. Government offices open between 9.00am and 6.00pm from Monday to Friday and also open on Saturday mornings and banks are generally open between 10.00am and 16.30pm from on weekdays.

Electricity
The electrical current in Brazil varies from region to region so it is a good idea to check it out before you go. For example in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, the current in is 110V or 120V, 60Hz AC while in Salvador it is 127V and in Brasilia it is 220V.

Visa Requirements
The majority of European nationals need nothing more than a valid passport and either a return ticket or proof of the means to pay for one to enter the country. You will need to fill in an entry card on arrival which will allow you to stay for a period of up to ninety days. The immigration officials will keep one part of this card and attach the other to your passport. Make sure you don’t lose this part as your departure will probably be delayed. Australian, Canadian, New Zealand and US citizens do need a visa which you can acquire from the Brazilian embassy in your home country. Residents of all other countries should also contact your local Brazilian embassy to see if you need a visa to travel.

Once you have your tourist visa, you can extend it for up to another ninety days if you apply at least fifteen days before the first one expires. You can only do this once. After this you need to leave the country and re-enter if you want to stay on. While there are no rules stipulating that your return cannot be on the same day, it is customary to wait at least one day before re-entry.

Post Office
Post offices in Brazil are called correios and you will recognise them by their bright yellow postboxes and signs. In the bigger cities you will always find the Correios e Telegrafos in the city centre but there are also smaller offices scattered throughout. One thing you will need to be prepared to do on a trip to a Brazilian post office is queue as most offices deal with a great deal more than just post. The easiest way to avoid this is to use a franking machine to purchase stamps as this usually moves along much more quickly.

Tourist Office
The main office of the Brazilian Tourist Board is located in the country’s capital Brasilia at Setor Comercial Norte, Quadra 2, Bloco G and there is also another branch in Rio de Janeiro on the eighth floor at 174 Rua Uruguaiana. Elsewhere in the country the tourist offices are sponsored by the individual states so in many places they are quite limited in the information which they provide. Ideally, you should not depend too much on the offices in the more rural areas so it’s probably a good idea to do plenty of research before you travel to the country itself.

Currency Exchange
When changing cash or travellers’ cheques you will usually find the best exchange rates in a casa de cambio. The only problem is that outside of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo you will not find that many of them. The other option is any of the major banks but in the larger cities only the head offices offer an exchange facility. It is also worth noting that the foreign exchange departments often close at 1.00pm, although some do remain open until 2.00pm or 3.00pm. Certain branches will only change a minimum of US$100 while others impose a fee of $20 no matter how large or small the amount being changed. Therefore, it is worth looking around before exchanging any foreign cash. You should also try to take US dollars as you can only change other currencies in a casa de cambio. Once you travel outside the larger towns and cities it is difficult to change money at all so you should probably do so before heading further afield.

All major credit cards are accepted but in the more rural areas the cards which they accept can be quite limited. Also, in places which don’t have a swipe machine you should be prepared to wait quite a while as the phone lines in the country are extremely overloaded. Finally, you can use your credit card to obtain cash advances in most banks in the bigger towns and cities. In smaller towns only the Banco do Brasil will provide this service. If you wish to do so, you need to look for the sign which says Cartao or Saques por Cartao. If you can’t see a sign, ask a manager. Or, you can also use one of the increasing numbers of ATMs which is usually a much easier and much quicker alternative.

Telephones
The country code for Brazil is 55 so if you are calling from abroad you need to dial 00, followed by 55, the local area code and the local number. The same instructions apply when you are making an international call from within the country.

Public telephones in Brazil are known by the locals as ‘orelhões’ or ‘big ears’ as a result of their distinctive covers. There are two different types, red for local calls and blue for inter-urban calls and they use either tokens (fichas) or phonecards (cartao telefonico) which can be bought at newsstands, kiosks, pharmacies and grocery stores. The cards range in value from thirty centavos to three reais but the former is really only useful for local calls.
To make long distance and international calls you will need to go to the posto telefonico but for collect international calls any phone will do. Also while there are no economy rates for local calls, long distance calls are cheaper after 8.00pm.

Tipping
Tipping in Brazil is not compulsory but a tip of ten to fifteen per cent is generally expected. Most restaurants, however, include the service charge in your bill but if you are very pleased with the service which you have received you should also leave a little extra. Taxis are not usually tipped although most people do tell the driver to keep the change.

Public Holidays
It is worth noting what the public holidays are before you travel to a country as the majority of businesses, banks and shops usually shut for the day. In Brazil they take place on January 1st, February 24th to 28th, good Friday, April 21st, May 1st, June 14th, September 7th, October 12th, November 2nd and 15th and December 25th. It is a good idea to check the particular area too as certain towns and cities also shut down during special events.

 

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